Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Veni, Vidi, Villi



I mentioned in my last post that Buddy Boy wanted to go see the Body World exhibit at our local science museum. I've had mixed feelings about this, as this exhibit has been surrounded by some controversy, and from what I had heard it sounded like it was more sensationalistic than educational. But a fair number of people that I know had gone to see it and were favorably impressed, so after talking with Liz and with Buddy Boy we decided to go.

The exhibit, for those that aren't familiar with it, exhibits dissected human bodies posed in various poses. Most of these poses are somewhat artistic or athletic in nature. This type of exhibit has been made possible by a process called plastination that was developed by the founder/owner of Body World, Gunther von Hagens. There are 4 Body World exhibits, which in the US circulate between various science museums. These exhibits have been shown in some art museums in Europe, but in the US they are shown as 'educational' exhibits in science museums. They have made a lot of money for von Hagens, as well as the museums that host the exhibits.

Although the hosting museum did not do anything that I considered exploitave, and had some docents explaining some things in the exhibit, on the whole I was a little bit uncomfortable with it. I suspect my discomfort stemmed from the basic difference in how the bodies were displayed, as compared to my medical dissection classes. When we dissected bodies in school, it was a special class. We were admonished to always respect those who had donated their bodies so that we could gain knowledge, the bodies were always treated respectfully, and when we were finished with them at the end of the term we had a short ceremony in the lab to "thank" them for their contribution to our learning, after which the bodies were taken away for burial.

In contrast, the bodies in Body World are posed, as I stated above. I suppose in some ways this can be justified to illustrate how certain muscles are used in certain ways, but it struck me somehow as being located somewhere between voyeurism and pornography.

That being said, the dissections were all top notch, and there was certainly knowledge to be gained for those who approached it who had not had previous anatomy experience.

As we walked thru the exhibit, Buddy Boy clearly felt that this was my domain. Whenever someone near us would ask a question of someone near them, Buddy Boy would interject "You should ask my dad, he's a doctor!" I just smiled and kept walking.

There was one great "That's my boy!" moment during our walk thru. At one point there was a docent talking about structures that he pointed to on a coronal section of a person's abdominal region (kind of a one inch thick human CT scan). While pointing to the intestines he stated that a particular structure he was pointing to was very important to digestion, and before he could ask anyone to identify it Buddy Boy piped up "It's the villi!". The man looked up at Buddy Boy, smiled, and asked him if he knew why they were important. That was all the encouragement Buddy Boy needed.

Buddy Boy proceeded to explain that it was in the villi that all the important nutrients were absorbed, which then went into the bloodstream, and were subsequently carried throughout the body where they were needed. The docent put down the section, smiled, and said "I think that pretty much covers it". The six or seven people standing around him just looked at Buddy Boy in awe. I must admit that I was impressed that Buddy Boy had identified the villi from a cross section, though I suppose the hint that the structure was important to digestion helped a lot.

As the years go by, I wonder more what the future holds for Buddy Boy. Right now I'm wondering how to combine anatomy and farming into a viable career.

12 comments:

Marla said...

Wow! Buddy Boy is one smart kiddo! What a proud moment! I don't know what I would think of that exhibit. I think I might get a little queasy. I can only imagine the confusion my M would have seeing that exhibit. All kids are different and so are grown ups. My husband faints when he sees blood. I wonder how he would do at that exhibit. I think the view of being close to pornograpy is an interesting one. I would have to see more images before I could put my opinion of that out there.

It does make me feel good that when you were in medical school you respected the bodies in such a nice way. I am a full donor and always wondered about that.

Casdok said...

Yes i agree with Marla, one smart boy you have there!

Niksmom said...

Wow! I'm impressed! Um, about the farming and anatomy...how about veterinary med? It always fascinates me what our kids come up with. My husband remarked just the other day, quite in earnest, that Nik's uncanny understanding of applied physics at the age of four is frightening...and impressive.

Ruth said...

I've been debating about going (we live out in Wildwood) to this show. I remember the awe I felt holding the brain during neuroanatomy and wondering who this person had been?

My daughter's talent is math and her interest is rain forests. She has delivered lectures on rainforest ecology at the Butterfly House to anyone who makes eye contact.

Ange said...

I just don't think I'll be able to see it. I can't separate from the spirit/emotional part of the person. I too think it's great there was so much respect for the bodies in medical school.

And I love your last line. Of course I thought of a large animal vet. He can treat animals and see/ride all of the farm equipment he wants!

I went to Truman and they had quite the AG science department. ;)

abfh said...

Buddy Boy might enjoy the "All Creatures Great and Small" series of books about the life of a farm vet. There's also a movie based on it.

r.b. said...

Maybe it's my own voyeurism, but it looks fascinating, in a way. Skin covered, out bodies are not as visually complex. I would hope the bodies would be given proper respect, though.

Steve D said...

Great story, Joe!
In the flower industry where I work, scientists bioengineer predatory insects who control pests such as aphids and whitefly. I'm thinking Buddy could further that science someday.

laurentius rex said...

I consider the whole thing enough of an obscenity to want to publicly flay Gunther von freakshow Haagen Daaz and call it an "installation" you know just like Tyburn was.

Daisy said...

Veterinary school. Definitely. The science, the farming -- when he's old enough, maybe he'll like the James Herriot books! I loved them. If I'd done better in freshman chemistry, who knows...

misha_k said...

I've heard about that exhibit. I don't know if I'd go but I know my son would enjoy it.

And that's pretty cool that your son was able to identify the villi and what it does.

Sharon said...

He's such a smart boy. I love hearing about Buddy Boy.